The Association of Internet Research (AoIR) Ethics Working Committee has created a list of questions for researchers who are considering the use of social media in their protocols. Below is an adapted version of some of those questions to help researchers ensure that their participants are being protected.

  • How are you incorporating the use of social media in your project?
  • Have you looked at the Terms of Service/Privacy Policy for all social media sites you wish to use? Are there restrictions on conducting research using those sites?
  • How will your participants be approached? Will they be aware of your presence as a researcher?
  • How will the data be used? If made available to other researchers in the future, how will participants be protected?
  • How do ethical expectations differ with de-identified data compared with interview data?
  • Will participants be able to be "re-identified" by means of Internet searching or other advanced technology? How will that information be treated?
  • How will you be storing data that could be considered sensitive? What are the risks of data being leaked?
  • How will your findings be presented? Is there risk to participants in how the information is disseminated? Will participants be protected in all means of dissemination (e.g., pre-publication reports, workshops, informal meetings, etc.)?
  • Is there risk for potential harm to individuals, online communities, other researchers, or your field of research?
  • Are there safeguards in place for potential harm to all who might be at risk?
  • What are the potential benefits of the study? Will the participants benefit directly? Does the greater benefit outweigh the risks?
  • Have minors and vulnerable populations been considered? Are additional safeguards in place to protect these populations? Are there increased risks to these individuals/populations?

You can access the full version of this article here.
Ethical Decision-Making and Internet Research: Version 2.0
Recommendations from the AoIR Ethics Working Committee

The AoIR has also created a chart with ethical questions to consider, broken down by type of data that the researcher is planning to use.